'A Dangerous Game': Sheffield Film Review
This funny, folksy sequel to the award-winning documentary "You’ve Been Trumped" examines the high environmental and economic cost of golf resorts for the super-wealthy.
A local story with global implications, the British director Anthony Baxter’s debut documentary You’ve Been Trumped grabbed news headlines, positive reviews and festival prizes back in 2011. A classic underdog yarn about a ragtag group of citizens protesting against property tycoon Donald Trump’s scheme to bulldoze a luxury golf resort across environmentally sensitive coastline in northeast Scotland, Baxter’s film was full of folksy humor and quirky character studies, self-consciously drawing on Bill Forsyth’s thematically similar 1983 comedy Local Hero.
Now Baxter has made a follow-up documentary bringing the saga up to date. But A Dangerous Game is more than just a sequel, broadening the story’s scope to include public protests against similarly controversial golf resorts around the globe. It also features heavyweight interviewees including Trump himself, making a comically clumsy attempt at damage limitation. Following its U.K. premier at Sheffield Doc/Fest last week, the film screens again at Edinburgh International Film Festival next week. Ironically, Trump’s high profile as a much-hated public figure is sure to boost its commercial prospects. Further festival buzz, niche theatrical slots and TV sales all seem likely.
The hero of You’ve Been Trumped was small-town farmer Michael Forbes, who refused to sell his land to Trump’s golf project, resisting both generous cash settlements and threats of legal action. A Dangerous Game catches up with Forbes as he wins the Scot of the Year award in 2012, much to Trump’s chagrin. Three years later, the doughty farmer and his elderly mother are still collecting their household water from a river after their supply was choked off by construction work on the golf resort.
Baxter’s first documentary was disastrous for Trump’s public image, especially in Scotland. It featured the billionaire tycoon lambasting Forbes for living in a "pigsty," plus sinister footage of the director being arrested by Scottish police. When the film aired on BBC television in Britain, Trump’s lawyers tried unsuccessfully to halt the screening. This time, he seems more alert to potential bad publicity, and finally consents to a sit-down interview with Baxter in New York. Their encounter does not go well, with The Donald merely confirming his reputation as a blowhard who hates having his money-making schemes challenged.
From one angle, Baxter merely hands Trump enough rope to hang himself, and the results are highly amusing. But believers in even-handed journalism might feel a little uneasy that the interview is edited to make him appear unsympathetic, as he himself predicts. Of course, Trump needs little help to look boorish and arrogant, but he is no fool. A more balanced documentary might have allowed him to state his case with more nuance, however much the film-makers might loathe him. At times, Baxter’s partisan tactics are reminiscent of Michael Moore – indeed, Moore championed You’ve Been Trumped and gets a thanks credit here.
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A Dangerous Game looks impressively glossy considering its tiny budget, with extensive use of aerial footage shot from remote controlled drones. This technique works great for the wild Scottish coast and the majestic hills above the UNESCO World Heritage city of Dubrovnik in Croatia, where popular opposition to a similar golf resort project has met with death threats and undemocratic chicanery. Baxter also travels to the U.S. to visit a failed golfing community outside Las Vegas, which later filed for bankruptcy. He interviews a range of activists and experts, including actor Alec Baldwin, environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr. and members of the Occupy movement.
Like its predecessor, A Dangerous Game is not an attack on the game of golf itself but on the economic and ecological damage that high-end golf resorts can cause, and the backstage cronyism that allows them to do so. Trump’s Scottish development was initially approved by the country’s political leader Alex Salmond, who declined to be interviewed for this film. But the litigious tycoon later failed in his legal bid to force the Edinburgh parliament to cancel an offshore wind farm. Trump has now shelved the second phase of his Scottish project, providing Baxter with a cautiously happy ending for this highly entertaining David and Goliath story.
Production company: Montrose Pictures
Starring: Donald Trump, Alec Baldwin, Michael Forbes, Karine Polwart, Robert Kennedy Jr.
Director: Anthony Baxter
Writer: Producer: Richard Phinney
Producer: Richard Phinney
Music: Dominic Glynn
Original songs: Karine Polwart
Sales company: Montrose Pictures
No rating, 90 minutes